Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Andrea E. Woodberry (page 1 of 9)

Thank You, Goodbye, and BIG NEWS from the Editors

The Tufts Museum Studies Blog is run by second-year masters students. Each year, the graduating editors pass on responsibility of the blog to a new set of editors. So, as graduation season approaches, it is time for Dominique and Andrea to say goodbye, and announce some exciting news for this coming year!

But first, we need to say THANK YOU!

This past year we had some great guest authors, good discussions, and hopefully helped connect some readers with their next job. Subscriptions rates just about doubled, and we are confident that readership will continue to grow well over the next few years!  And it was all thanks to you for keeping our blog healthy and running, and sharing it with your fiends and coworkers. Thank you for sending us job postings, reading the email newsletters, spreading the word, and contributing posts!

Now for the sad goodbyes. A note from Dominique and Andrea:

This past year running the blog has been a fantastic experience. The museum community (as always!) was very friendly and supportive, and it was a joy to be a part of bringing that community even closer through this platform. This is a very welcoming space for exploring the most current museum topics and news. I am excited to see where the blog continues under the hands of the wonderful new editors!  – Andrea 

Thank you for letting us be a part of your weekly routine  through the newsletter and blog posts! It has been a refreshing, invigorating, and rewarding experience to be  able to take part in the meaningful dialogue that surrounds our museum work. I hope we left you all with a little bit of inspiration and insight through our posts. We are leaving the blog in excellent hands, and I cannot wait to see it continue to grow and reach larger audiences in the future. Thank you for all your support!! – Dominique 


And now, for the BIG NEWS!

Some years this blog has been run by one editor, and other years by two editors, but this coming year there will be THREE editors! This means that there will be a student from each of Tufts’ three Museum Studies Masters programs – Art History and Museum Studies, History and  Museum Studies, and Museum Education. We are very excited about how their different perspectives will broaden the voice of the blog! Stay tuned for next week when they will introduce themselves to you and begin the new year!

Thank you all for a great year!

Dominique Marcial & Andrea Woodberry

Joyful Museums: Why They’re Important and How to Build Them

Marieke Van Damme is Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Society and one of the voices on the podcast Museum People. She also runs Joyful Museums, a website and project committed to “inspiring positive workplace culture.”

As museum workers and students, we all know the positives of working in museums – jobs that we are passionate about, organizations that make a positive difference in the world, always having interesting stories at parties, etc.

But we also know the common downsides of working at many museums – too much work, low salaries, an underfunded organization that leads to fewer resources and low job security, etc…

It is not uncommon for people to leave the museum field because they need better work/life balance, job security, and/or financial security than their museum can provide. For those who stay in the field, these  stressors can have a negative impact on workplace culture, personal lives, and employee engagement – impacting productivity and success.

Enter Joyful Museums. This project sets out to explore the state of employee engagement within museums, start conversations on workplace culture, and provide resources and data to help museums improve and utilize their employees’ joy.

In Marieke Van Damme’s words, museums are doing great work for their communities, but,

Still, each year, museums across the globe experience funding cuts. We talk about how this is an issue, but we don’t talk about what it means to be a worker in museums under these circumstances.

What about them? How are we ensuring our museum employees come to work each morning energized, engaged, and ready to take on their ever-growing list of tasks with shrinking funds?

I believe that keeping its workers happy should be the top priority of every museum.

Engaged museum workers will have a deeper commitment to the mission of a museum than a disengaged one, and they will strive for a higher quality product (exhibition, program, publication, etc.) for the public.  Building off of the growing academic field of positive psychology, I intend to explore what being happy at work means, why it is important for the museum community, and how it can be accomplished.

How engaged are your employees and coworkers? How engaged are you? Check out Joyful Museums for statistics, conversations, and resources on being a happier worker and building a more engaged workforce. We have a lot to lose by ignoring these conversations, and a lot to gain from having them.

How Museums Can Help Heal the Rural / Urban Divide

This past Friday, historians and history advocates from around the state of Minnesota gathered for Minnesota History Whatever, a day of deep conversations and lively exchanges of ideas. Together they shared successes, failures, and questions encountered in their work “doing history.”

One particularly interesting session I went to asked, “what insights can we bring to the rural/urban divide in Minnesota?” According to participants, Minnesota used to be a very united state based on the co-dependence of its different regions and industries. But, as in most, if not all, states, a divide between urban and rural has existed for a long time and is only growing. One need only to look at recent political trends and statements to see the evidence.

This session asked those of us in museums to examine this divide and find ways we are uniquely suited to bridge growing divisions. Every museum can find value in asking questions like, ‘where do we see signs of an urban/rural divide in our museums and communities?’ and ‘how can we lessen such divides?’

Here a few of key take-aways from the session:

  • Examine our own misconceptions – examine what it means to be rural vs urban and when stereotypes fly in the face of these definitions. For example, not all small museums are rural and not all rural museums are small – but so often we mentally connect the two. Another misconception that comes up in museums is that rural stories don’t require the attention to nuance and personal voice that other stories do.
  • Understand the divide – ask questions such as, ‘when did the divide start?’ ‘why is it growing?’ ‘what is at the root of the resentment and stereotyping?’ ‘what binds the different groups together?’ This inevitably involves a lot of listening. Hard listening. Listening without an agenda to fix but to learn. Listening even when we disagree with the other person.
  • Build trust – multiple times in this session rural museum professionals raised the issue that people need to enter rural worlds without expecting everything to be the same as in a city. For example, if someone walks onto a farm in a nice suit, refuses to walk around in the barn, and constantly breaks out the hand sanitizer, why would the farmer trust their story to this person? Building trust requires entering each other’s worlds without disdain and disgust.

So, what were some concrete solutions for museums?

  • Create partnerships – Museums survive on partnerships. So let’s use that structure to help heal rural and urban divides too. Just think of all the problems that could be solved in both institutions if urban museums partnered with rural ones.
  • Bear the burden of trust well – Museums are among the most trusted sources of information in America. That trust is a responsibility to fulfill as much as an opportunity for deep relationships.
  • Provide nuance to all stories – Let’s stop assuming we know the rural narrative and add nuance to all the stories in our institutions.
  • Build understanding to new perspectives – Museums are all about sharing stories and opening people up to new perspectives. So let’s harness that to build understanding between visitors of different worldviews.
  • Embrace commonalities – A helpful part of this session was when participants brainstormed things that connect all Minnesotans. If we have lost sight of the co-dependency between rural and urban areas, let’s start sharing what binds us again. For Minnesota, our major natural resource of water is critical to agriculture, industry, survival, environmental rights movements, and recreation in all parts of the state. Each state has their own connectors.
  • Instill a sense of place – one participant mentioned a dream project in which every student had to investigate the history of the land on which they lived – going back through previous renters or owners, farmers, governments, and Native Americans. Just imagine the respect this would instill for the land and the people that came before.

How is your museum suited to meet this divide? Through different stories of places and objects, discussions of natural resources, investigations of the stories and perspectives of art, …?

What Museums Can Learn From Hollywood

For anyone aware of the news, it’s clear that Hollywood has had a big year.

Between box office hits, conversations on diversity and representation, and the #MeToo movement, the movie industry has been the center of entertainment news for reasons both good and bad.

Museums can learn a lot of great storytelling techniques through movies and music. They can embrace diverse art forms by embracing the entertainment industry. And examining the way the public interacts with the industry could reveal something about how the public interacts, or will interact, with museums.

But as much as museums can learn from Hollywood’s successes, they can learn even more from its failures. While it’s tempting to just skim the tabloids and go back to the office, diving into the messiness of the entertainment industry can be essential to museums’ continuing relevance and popularity.

Two recent examples stick out – the representations of women and non-Western art. Two big topics on women in Hollywood are the recent #MeToo movement and the Bechdel Test. To read more thoughts on museums and #MeToo, read our previous post here.

For those unfamiliar with the Bechdel Test, it is a way to measure movies based on how they represent women. To pass, a film must contain at least two female characters – who talk with each other about something other than men. Seems simple, right? Pay attention to the next few films you watch – you may think again.

The Jaffer-Humphreys Test, created by two British museum professionals, takes this to museum galleries. To pass, a gallery must contain works by or related to two women, and they must not be presented for a relationship to a man (for example: a woman’s glove, included because she’s married to the man who the room is really about, doesn’t pass). To read more about the Jaffer-Humphreys Test, click here.

The second example comes from the movie “Black Panther,” in which one scene blatantly confronts a museum’s colonial roots and failure to accurately interpret non-Western objects. One of the most uncomfortable aspects of this scene is that it doesn’t actually feel much out of the ordinary. A white, female curator describes to a black, male visitor where some of the African collection objects are from. He calls her out on misinformation and makes a comment about leaving with the object. She responds by saying it’s not for sale. In a mic-drop moment, he then asks if the museum had paid for it when they received it. And this is all done without any other sense that the conversation is critical – no dramatic music, shouting voices, or detailed camera work.

What is somewhat worrisome is that the normalcy of the scene demonstrates a public perception of museums as discriminatory colonizers. What is more worrisome is that this perception is not always wrong. The up-front nature of the scene calls on museums to examine and change unethical and discriminatory practices.

To read a more in-depth commentary on how museums should respond to the scene, click here.

Through mass movements such as #MeToo, unofficial tests of representation, and accountability to museums’ role in cultural oppression, Hollywood has much to give to museums. The industry’s mistakes should inform our work just as their successes do. Next time you see a major entertainment industry discussion, look a little closer. What does it imply for museums?

Around the Globe: Icelandic Museums

Did you know Iceland has more museums per capita than either the UK or the US? Fulbright Fellow Hannah Hethmon has made it her mission to share the stories of many of these museums and the professionals that run them. As part of her Fulbright project, she started the podcast Museums in Strange Places. Each episode explores the museum culture in Iceland and a specific museum. In Hannah’s words:

“Museums in Strange Places is a podcast for people who love museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. This year, I’m living in Iceland, so in each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity, all from the perspective of a museum professional. Next year…I’ll be somewhere else in Europe!”

So if you’re among the millions of people recently obsessed with Iceland, or if you just want some help letting your thoughts escape the gray days of winter, check out Hannah’s podcast and be immersed in the stories of Iceland. Who knows – you might just find yourself buying a plane ticket halfway across the pond!

And if you’re looking for more museum podcasts, check out Hannah’s Complete List of Podcasts for Museum Professionals and Museum Hack’s Eleven Must-Listen Museum Podcasts. Have a favorite museum-related podcast of your own? Let us know in the comments! Happy listening!

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